National Catholic Reporter ®

September 27, 2002 
Vol. 2, No.5

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An ‘experiment’ still isn’t law; more on homosexuals and priesthood; Ratzinger joins anti-war voices; Legionaries hold orientation for bishops

“The concept of preventive war does not appear in the Catechism.” 

Cardinal Ratzinger

If you have been following news reports on Vatican reaction to the American sex abuse norms, the last few days may have seemed fairly confusing. First NCR carried a story entitled “Rome expected to reject Dallas norms,” which was picked up by the major wire services. (You know something is important when it shows up on the Yahoo news ticker). This was followed in swift succession by a story from Catholic News Service, and then both AP and Reuters, predicting instead “cautious” or “temporary” approval from Rome.

     In reality, all these reports carry more or less the same information, once you get past the headlines. The Vatican is apparently not going to grant a recognitio, the formal approval necessary to turn the norms into “particular law” — in other words, to make them binding. Instead, Vatican officials are likely to encourage the bishops to experiment with the norms during the two year trial period they agreed upon in Dallas, with the intent of working together to iron out conflicts with the universal law of the church before bestowing final consent. The Vatican will also loudly and clearly affirm the intent of the bishops to make the church safe for children and young people.

     From a strictly legal point of view, this means that where the norms conflict with existing canon law (for example, on the statute of limitations for a sex abuse offense), a priest who is penalized under the norms could, at least in theory, appeal to Rome and be upheld. It is a basic legal principle that a law remains in vigor until it is formally abrogated.

     Whether this amounts to a “rejection” or an “approval” is to some extent in the eye of the beholder. The U.S. bishops voted in Dallas to request a recognitio, and it seems they are not going to get it, at least not yet. But for obvious reasons, the Vatican is anxious to emphasize the positive aspect of its response, in order to avoid the impression of undercutting the U.S. bishops. Fair enough, because much of the norms’ content will undoubtedly survive this experimental period. 

     At the same time, the serious canonical issues I listed last week are not going to go away, and as of this writing the Vatican will not grant a recognitio until they are resolved. This means Rome and the American bishops will have to work together to produce a refined system that both ensures swift justice for victims, and yet protects the due process rights of the accused. 

     We should have the Vatican’s letter to the U.S. bishops in the second week of October.

* * *

     America magazine kicked up some dust last week by publishing an essay by Fr. Andrew R. Baker, an American priest from the Allentown, Pa., diocese who works in the Congregation for Bishops, arguing that homosexuals should not be ordained as priests. Accompanying it was an article by Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, taking the opposite view.

     Baker wrote that there are grounds for “prudent doubt” about homosexuals due to several factors: an increased risk of problems such as substance abuse, sexual addiction and depression; a tendency towards “duplicitous or pretentious behaviors”; doubts about adherence to church teaching; overwhelming temptation in an all-male environment; the tendency to form cliques; and doubts about the capacity to live a celibate life. Moreover, Baker writes, a homosexual’s vow of celibacy cannot have the same meaning as a heterosexual’s, because homosexuals are already bound to abstain from sexual relations by natural law.

     After the article appeared I rang Baker up to ask some questions. He was gracious, volunteering to respond via e-mail. As it happens, Baker and I are roughly the same age (I’m 37, which he will be Oct. 21), but he comes from a much larger family (six brothers and five sisters).Though I draw no special conclusions from the fact, I note that his post-seminary graduate work was done at two Opus Dei institutions: the University of Navarra in Spain from 1994-96, and the University of Holy Cross in Rome from 1996-97. His research interest was contraception.

     Given the interest in his essay, I present here the questions and answers. (I’ve edited them only slightly, to eliminate redundancies).

* * *
1. How did the article come about? 

     I submitted the article on my own initiative. I have some background in moral theology and I have some experience as a seminary professor, formator, and member of a diocesan commission on Holy Orders. This question arose in my mind a few years ago and I’ve finally had the opportunity to reflect and to write about the topic. I am grateful to the editors of America for seeing some value in the content of the article. … 

     As I’ve said to other journalists, my article is simply my own personal opinion on the topic. I did not ask permission from any one to print my opinion. It has no one’s approval but my own.

2. Were you presenting the official discipline of the church?

     The rationale presented is my own but it has been informed by fruitful research, conversations with others, prayer, and my past experience with encouraging vocations and with seminarians. 

     As far as the official discipline of the Church is concerned, it would be helpful to note that the Holy See has touched upon the topic on at least three occasions such as: Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (formally known as the Congregation for Religious), Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of Perfection and Sacred Order (February 2, 1961), in Bouscaren, S.J., T. Lincoln and O’Connor, James I., “The Canon Law Digest,” Vol. V, Milwaukee, WI, The Bruce Publishing Company, 1963, p. 471; Congregation for Catholic Education, A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy, Rome, April 11, 1974, 21; and Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes, in “Origins,” March 22, 1990, Vol. 19, No. 42, p. 687. These documents give indications of a conclusion similar to mine.

     The Holy Father, in his recent address to the Brazilian Bishops, spoke clearly about a renewed attentiveness to the selection of candidates. “It would be deplorable that, by a mistaken act of tolerance, he would ordain young men who are immature or exhibit clear signs of affective disorders, who, as is sadly known, could cause serious confusion in the consciousness of the faithful with obvious harm for the whole Church,” he said. (L’Osservatore Romano, 11 September 2002, p. 4) This seems in line with the previous documents of the Holy See I cited. I would place the disorder of a predominant or exclusive attraction to a person of the same sex in the category of an affective disorder.

     I would also add that part of the official discipline of the Church is the superabundant availability of grace for everyone to live the virtue of chastity. The most important people in the Kingdom of God are not the ministers but the saints. Even though someone may not be accepted as a candidate for the priesthood, they are still called to great sanctity. For someone with Same Sex Attraction (SSA), the struggle of living chastity can be an opportunity to live sanctity with tremendous heroism.

3. What do you think of the article by Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton?

     After it was published, I eagerly read Bishop Gumbleton’s article. America had informed me that there would be another article which would take a different side to the issue, and so I wanted to read the other article before I spoke with anyone from the media about my own.

     Bishop Gumbleton seems to employ some anecdotes for his argumentation and his article focuses on the question of those who are already priests who suffer from SSA. My focus is more on the question of whether the presence of SSA would qualify as a prudent doubt for admission regarding a man who has yet to be ordained.

     I did notice that Bishop Gumbleton refers to what he calls the “scapegoating” of sufferers of SSA for the clergy abuse scandal as well to the “giftedness” of these priests. 

     I would simply like to say that I think that SSA is a factor for some cases of abuse but certainly not for all. The root causes, I believe, are more diverse and extensive. However, if one should recognize that SSA is one of the causes, this is not necessarily “scapegoating” but an honest evaluation of evidence.

     I would also like to add that the best pastoral response to my brother priests who suffer from SSA is certainly to affirm their many fine qualities and gifts, but also to help them to see that they are suffering from a disorder and that they can find both spiritual and psychological help within the Church in order to deal with their difficulty.

     As a matter of fact, it is precisely the struggle for chastity in accordance with the Church’s teaching and the search for possible healing that can be a great gift for the individual and the Church. A priest who is afflicted with such a disorder can be consoled with the Cross and with the faith of knowing that he is filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Church (Col. 1: 24). But recognizing the gifts of someone by seeing the value of their fruitful suffering is not the same thing as the suitability for Holy Orders. All those who suffer from affective disorders can find supernatural value in their suffering but it doesn’t mean they should necessarily be priests.

4. Would your logic apply to removing already ordained homosexual priests?

     I’m happy you asked this question. I had hoped that more questions that were not explicitly covered in the article would arise from a discussion of the points being made. I would honestly be interested to hear what others would say about your question. 

     I don’t think, however, that the exact same logic could be used with priests. The article itself only dealt with the exercise of the virtue of prudence before ordination and not the prudential decision and pastoral care for priests who suffer from SSA. This question is a more complex issue. But I do believe that certain elements found in the article could serve as a basis for advice to be given for cases of priests with SSA.

5. Do you believe that homosexuality is one of the causal factors in the sex abuse scandals?

     I have certainly heard and read that some people have made a connection between the two. I believe that there is compelling evidence that would suggest that, for some abuse cases, SSA disorder is one of the causal factors, especially with older post-pubescent minors. As I said before, I don’t think it is clear that SSA is a causal factor in all cases of abuse nor do I believe that it is the only cause. With or without the scandal, the question of admission to seminaries and Holy Orders of those who suffer with SSA is still a valid and important one to discuss.
* * *

     I have been asked by several colleagues how to assess the political weight of Baker’s essay, a logical question given the way it was attributed to a “Vatican official,” without explaining whether that means this is a new statement of church policy or simply someone’s private opinion. 

     Baker has the curial rank of adetto seconda classe, or “aide second class.” This means he is a desk officer with, typically, four layers of authority above him: the cardinal-prefect, the secretary, the under-secretary, and the capo ufficio, or “head of the office.” An adetto cannot promulgate policy changes. (Technically speaking they can’t even go on a coffee break without their capo ufficio’s permission, though not all superiors are quite so hard-nosed). Hence in one sense Baker’s essay carries no special magisterial significance. He acknowledges above that the essay was not approved by anyone before publication.

     On the other hand, in my experience the views Baker expressed are shared in many Vatican offices, and often at higher levels of authority. In 2001, for example, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expressed the view that homosexuals should not be admitted to seminaries in an interview with Catholic News Service. Last March, Vatican spokesperson Joaquín Navarro-Valls said to the New York Times that homosexuals “cannot be ordained.” 

     Not everyone, however, takes quite so hard a line. Some would allow that a candidate with a homosexual orientation might be able to offer convincing evidence of a capacity to live a faithful celibate life, and hence be eligible for ordination. The Congregation for Catholic Education has been pondering a document on this subject for years, and internal debate is said to be ongoing. 

     In that sense, I believe Baker’s essay represents a climate of opinion that is fairly widely held inside the Vatican, and that has gained strength in the wake of the various sexual abuse scandals. Whether that climate will eventually result in an official statement on the inadmissibility of homosexuals remains to be seen. 

* * *

     Vatican opposition to a U.S. war against Iraq continues to swell.

     In mid-September, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, added his voice to the chorus of Vatican doves, on the occasion of a speech in Trieste. Ratzinger, the Catholic church’s top doctrinal official, was asked if a war against Iraq could be morally justified.

     “In this situation certainly not,” he said. “There is the United Nations. It is the authority that should make the decisive choice. It’s necessary that the choice be made by the community of peoples, not a single power. The fact that the United Nations is seeking a way to avoid the war seems to me to demonstrate with sufficient proof that the damages which would result [from the war] are greater than the values it would seek to save.”

     Ratzinger criticized the new Bush doctrine of “preventive war.”

     “The concept of preventive war does not appear in the Catechism,” Ratzinger said. “One cannot simply say that the Catechism does not legitimate war, but it’s true that the Catechism has developed a doctrine such that, on the one hand, there may be values and populations to defend in certain circumstances, but on the other, it proposes a very precise doctrine on the limits of these possibilities.” 

     In an exclusive interview with NCR on Sept. 24, Archbishop Stephen Hamao, president of the Pontificial Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, also spoke against war in Iraq.

     “I’m very worried about what the U.S. is doing. I hope they don’t attack,” Hamao said. “We don’t need to excite more violence and hate.”

     Hamao, who as archbishop of Yokohama in Japan took part in protests at a U.S. naval base, said that U.S. policy makers need to do a better job of understanding how their choices look from other global vantage points.

     “A war between the United States and Iraq could not help but seem to many of the world’s people a war between white Westerners and Arabs,” Hamao said. “It would complicate relationships everywhere. It must be avoided.”

     I pressed Hamao on the issue of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction.” After all, he is the Vatican’s top official for refugees, and one of the largest refugee populations in the world is made up of Kurds brutalized by Sadam Hussein.

     “I feel very much for the Kurds. As a Japanese, I live with the memory of the atomic bomb,” Hamao said. “We too have experienced the terrible reality of weapons of mass destruction, in our case at the hands of the United States.”

     “A war will not solve the problem of these weapons. Negotiations through the United Nations must be pursued. If all else fails, then leave it up to the United Nations to intervene, not just a single country,” Hamao said.

     Ratzinger and Hamao join Cardinals Roger Etchegaray, Walter Kasper, Ignace Moussa Daoud, and Camillo Ruini, as well as Archbishops Jean-Louis Tauran and Diarmud Martin, on the list of Vatican officials who have expressed opposition to a U.S.-led war in Iraq. 

     The premanent council of the Italian bishops conference, which has close ties to the Vatican, also weighed in Sept. 24. 

     “It is hoped that alternative courses will be identified to the hypothesis of a preventive war in Iraq, a war that would have unacceptable human costs and enormous destabilizing effects on the entire Middle East region, and probably on all international relations,” the Italian bishops said.

* * *

     Without much fanfare, the Congregation for Bishops sponsors a workshop every year for all the new bishops appointed by the pope in the previous 12 months. As in the past, this year the 10-day orientation was organized in cooperation with the Legionaries of Christ, and held at the Legionaries’ university in Rome, Regina Apostolorum. Heavyweight speakers who addressed the 117 bishops from 33 nations included Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who encouraged bishops to develop a person rapport with theologians. A bishop should react with prudence if a theologian appears to stray from the faith, Ratzinger said, trying to read his or her work in a positive light.

     The sessions are obviously intended to benefit the bishops, giving them an orientation to the demands of their new job. But the event is also, albeit unintentionally, a boost to the Legionaries. Among other things, it’s an opportunity to show off the facilities and personnel of Regina Apostolorum to bishops who have a lot to say about where their seminarians go to school when they come to Rome. Regina Apostolorum is a new kid on the block compared to older pontifical institutions such as the Gregorian or the Angelicum, and hence can use the publicity. (The Legionaries are blessed to have a smart and efficient polyglot American, Fr. Tom Williams, as dean of their theology department). 

     Vatican esteem for the Legionaries was clear during the bishops’ gathering. For example, when the pope received the neophyte prelates in audience at Castel Gandolfo Sept. 23, he thanked the Legionaries for the “thoughtful welcome” they had offered again this year.

     Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, told the pope during his remarks at the audience, subsequently published in L’Osservatore Romano, that at the end of each daily Mass the bishops and the Legionaries had recited a prayer for the pope. He noted that the prayer was written by Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries.

     As readers are probably aware, Maciel has been accused of sexual abuse by seven former members of the Legionaries. Those charges have been firmly denied by Maciel and the Legionaries. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith received a canonical complaint, but has seemingly decided not to proceed. Taken in combination with the fact that Maciel sat in the front row at a recent papal Mass in Mexico City and greeted the pope, Re’s comment may be taken as a further signal that Maciel still enjoys strong Vatican support.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is

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